• The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division Aviation Unit will initially train with a 3-D Robotics X-8M quadcopter similar to this one prior to moving on to larger types of unmanned aerial systems. Photo by UVA Systems International
     The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division Aviation Unit will initially train with a 3-D Robotics X-8M quadcopter similar to this one prior to moving on to larger types of unmanned aerial systems. Photo by UVA Systems International

Navy Aims to Fly Right

April 20, 2017
By Maryann Lawlor
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Training and certification program to boost unmanned aircraft system mission possibilities.


The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division's (NSWC PCD) Aviation Unit is working with the Aviation Unit and Fleet Liaison Office to establish an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flight program. Created to support the command's research, development, test and evaluation mission, the program will foster innovations in payloads and mine warfare as well as expeditionary warfare systems.

In the near future, NSWC PCD will be qualifying and designating the aviation detachment pilots as the initial cadre of air vehicle operators and unmanned aircraft commanders. Soon after, they will hold an inaugural training class to qualify command civilians and non-aviation personnel for flight.

The program meets former Secretary of the U.S. Navy Ray Mabus' direction and allows the NSWC PCD to continue flying UASs for the development of various warfare systems, sensors and technology transition protocol.

"While NSWC PCD has flown UASs in the past for RDT&E [research, development, test and evaluation] purposes, the direction formalized the process to train and qualify personnel to conduct UAS operations," Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Dill, USN, NSWC PCD fleet liaison officer in charge, explains.

3-D Robotics X-8M quadcopter vehicles will be used as a starting point to safely train and refine procedures and practices before upgrading to larger systems. The largest UASs the certification will enable the users to operate will weigh no more than 55 pounds.

The NSWC PCD's Aviation Unit has submitted the final request to NAVAIR to obtain the approvals needed to operate UASs. With this, they have custom-made multiple local instructions to govern how users will train, operate and test these new systems.

Cmdr. Dill believes RDT&E involving UASs will cultivate a significant following from other U.S. Defense Department agencies.

"We expect RDT&E involving UASs to grow, creating a dynamic developmental environment involving military and civilian personnel operating the systems to develop advanced capabilities for the Fleet," he says. "We will also be requesting additional flight clearances to operate an expanded inventory of small UAS."

Lt. Jeff Mandel, USN, NSWC PCD special projects officer, maintains the program will bring about other benefits. "The commercial sector is building and improving small UASs at breakneck speed that the U.S. Navy would be hard pressed to keep up with using traditional acquisition pipelines," Lt. Mandel says. "Once we have our foot in the door, we can keep up with these new advances and rapidly bring new capabilities to our warfighters all over the world."

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